Resistance in the West Bank, Solidarity in the U.S.

By Sunaina Maira, author of Boycott!: The Academy and Justice for Palestine


On December 19, 2017, sixteen-year old Ahed Tamimi slapped Israeli soldiers who had invaded her home in the West Bank. The slap by this Palestinian teenage girl resounded around the world. Tamimi was confronting the soldiers hours after they had shot her teenage cousin, Mohamed, with rubber bullets that broke his jaw and entered his skull. Tamimi has been fending off Israeli soldiers all of her young life. In 2015, she became famous when a video, that went viral, showed her wrestling a masked Israeli soldier with her bare arms while he throttled her little brother who had a broken arm. Mohamed Tamimi was violently attacked while protesting against Trump’s decision to move the capital of Israel to Jerusalem, a city under illegal Israeli military occupation since 1967. Trump’s unilateral move, in defiance of the international consensus that recognizes that the status of Jerusalem is still contested due to the occupation, sparked widespread protests by Palestinians that included general strikes. Colleges and schools also closed as part of acts of collective rejection of this blow to Palestinian sovereignty.

The Tamimi family’s village, Nabi Saleh, is renowned for the ongoing, regular, nonviolent resistance of its Palestinian residents to Israel’s confiscation of its land and its water and the illegal construction of Jewish-only settlements that encroach on the village. Palestinian resistance to five decades of occupation has included countless such acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent protest, including general strikes, hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners, and peaceful actions against land confiscation, home demolitions, and enclosure by militarized borders and the Israeli Wall. Nabi Saleh is not the only village where unarmed men, women, and children, like Tamimi and her family members, routinely confront Israeli soldiers with lethal weapons and are routinely maimed, killed, and arrested without trial. Israeli military laws criminalize peaceful political protests, including even waving Palestinian flags, and Ahed’s father, Bassem Tamimi, has been in prison and tortured for many years.

Other West Bank villages such as Ni’lin and Bil’in also have a history of civil disobedience challenging the occupation and colonization of their land, based on the Palestinian concept of sumud, or steadfastness, a notion that evokes the indigenous attachment to staying on and defending the land. This notion of resilience is also at the core of international solidarity with the Palestinian refusal to accept the rule of the occupier and challenge the denial of their right to be human. International volunteers regularly attend the Friday protests against the Wall and settlements in West Bank villages and have also been tear gassed and attacked by Israeli soldiers.

The arrest of Tamimi sparked an international solidarity campaign, #FreeAhedTamimi, to bring attention to her conviction as a “terrorist” by an Israeli military court and the arrests and physical assaults of her family members. The feminist peace organization, Code Pink, organized a campaign to send letters to Tamimi on her 17th birthday, which she celebrated while in Israeli prison; the campaign aims to challenge the systematic detention and torture of Palestinian children in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is finally being opposed by legislation introduced in Congress in winter 2017. While it is highly unlikely that this law will ever be passed by a consistently pro-Israel U.S. legislature, it is important to note that Israel is the only country in the world that systematically detains and prosecutes children-as well as adults–in a military court system that lacks due process (the system of “administrative detention”). Hundreds of children are locked up every year simply for throwing stones—against the tanks of an occupying army and soldiers with lethal weapons. Addameer, a prisoner rights organization, reports that the number of child prisoners has actually doubled over the past 3 years, also noting that approximately 20% of the Palestinian population in the occupied territoriees has been in Israeli prisons (and 40% of all men) since the occupation began in 1967; this is why Israel is called a carceral state. Palestinian children are regularly tortured in prison; Defence of Children-International found that 75% of Palestinian children are physically abused after arrest.

Furthermore, Israeli soldiers regularly use rubber bullets, as they did against Mohammed Tamimi, as a “crowd control” weapon targeting Palestinian protesters and disabling and killing children, as documented by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. In places such as Nabi Saleh and other sites of organized collective resistance, documented by harrowing documentary films such as Five Broken Cameras, Bil’in Habibti, and Budrus, the use of such lethal weapons against children is a form of collective punishment against family members of those involved in political activism. It should be noted that just in January 2018, four Palestinian children—who were all 16 years old—were killed by Israeli soldiers in West Bank protests or “ambushes” by Israeli soldiers, who regularly shoot Palestinian youth in the head with live ammunition.

Ahed Tamimi, interestingly, is blond and light-skinned—as are some Palestinians—and one of the troubling tactics that Israeli officials have used to discredit her after she garnered global media attention is to allege that, because of her fair complexion and blond hair, she is not really a Tamimi family member. This reveals the racist and colonialist logics underlying the Zionist regime, that is, Palestinians, especially women, are not capable of courageous acts of resistance and if they are, are not authentic Palestinians – while crushing even the tiniest acts of resistance with brutal force. Some Israeli Zionists went even further in attacking Tamimi, suggesting that she should be subjected to rape and murder for daring to defy an Israeli soldier.

So what can those concerned about the horrific abuse of children and authoritarian repression of civil disobedience do in protest, here in the U.S.? Palestinians have told us, consistently, what we can do: they have called on international civil society to engage in engage in boycott, divestment, and sanctions till Israel complies with human rights law. The BDS movement calls on Israel to 1) end its occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and dismantle the Wall; 2) respect the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3) protect and promotes the right of Palestinian refugees to return as upheld by UN Resolution 194.

As I discuss in my new book, Boycott! The Academy and Justice in Palestine, the academic boycott movement draws attention to this systemic degradation of academic (and human) freedom in Palestine and has been an incredibly effective and growing campaign in the U.S. academy in recent years, with boycott resolutions adopted by several national academic associations. It is also a movement that engages in joint struggles against xenophobia, militarization, border violence, police brutality, and carcerality and for justice, here and there.


Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

“In deftly demonstrating that Palestinian solidarity belongs at the center of all of our justice concerns, Boycott! both exemplifies the challenge of this moment and urges us to fearlessly rise up to it.”—Angela Y. Davis

 


The Academy and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement

By Sunaina Maira, author of Boycott!: The Academy and Justice for Palestine


On December 6, 2017, Donald Trump shocked the international community by unilaterally declaring that the U.S. had anointed Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a city illegally occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. The status of Jerusalem has been pending in negotiations between Israel and Palestine, which are already compromised by the unequal power relations between the two entities, and the extremely partisan role of the U.S. as Israel’s unconditional ally and largest funder. The decree on Jerusalem ruptured the international consensus that Jerusalem’s fate must be resolved through peace talks, given its occupation is illegal and has been condemned by the UN, even if this consensus is quite limited given its inability to condemn the usurpation of Palestinian territories that began in 1948. But demonstrating the outrage of the majority of countries around the world, the UN General Assembly voted 128 to 9 to condemn Trump’s declaration which provoked protest even from U.S. allies such as the UK, France, and Germany.

Using the bully logic of gangster extortionism, Trump threatened to punish countries that opposed his decision and decided to withhold tens of millions of dollars to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency) that provides aid to Palestinian refugees, including in the blockaded Gaza Strip which has been enduring an acute humanitarian crisis for years as well as in refugee communities and camps in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The U.S. is the largest donor to UNRWA, appropriately so as the wealthiest country in the world, and so this massive cut would mean cutting off healthcare, education, and social services to Palestinian refugees that constitute significant segments of the population in Jordan and Lebanon. Some commentators argued that the strangling of UNRWA was an even bigger crisis for Palestine-Israel than the selling out of Jerusalem, given the heightened instability it would cause for the poorest and most insecure Palestinians in the region, and undercutting U.S.-Israeli security arrangements to police the Palestinians, including via cooperation with the barely sovereign Palestinian Authority (PA).

But the issue really is: how can Trump decide that Jerusalem should, or should not, be the capital of another nation-state? After the news broke, people who are not activists or leftists asked me how this was even possible, questioning the fundamental logic behind such a move. The logic, clearly, is a colonialist one and builds on a long history of imperial states intervening in and violating the national sovereignty of other peoples, going back to Lord Balfour’s role 100 years ago in the UK’s selling out of Palestine to Zionists and facilitating the establishment of a Jewish state on Palestinian land and the displacement and dispossession of indigenous Palestinians. The PA acknowledged and challenged this logic by a symbolic declaration that recognized Texas as part of Mexico, given its annexation by the U.S., announcing that it would move the Palestinian consulate from Mexico City to Houston. Intense protests erupted on Palestinian streets and Israeli soldiers continued their brutalization of Palestinian civilians, including children, with lethal weapons.

But really, what can the international community do to oppose this colonialist policy of giving away other people’s lands, and rights? How can we end the silence over Israel’s ongoing fragmentation and occupation of Palestinian territories and its creation of bantustans that would mean even an eventual Palestinian state would effectively not be viable? Illegal Jewish settlements inside Palestinian territory and the expanding Wall have led to the canonization of the West Bank and the encirclement and isolation of Jerusalem. In fact, right after the New Year, Israel announced it had approved the construction of over 1,000 new illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, a flagrant finger pointed at any future peace talks and an expansionism green-lighted, of course, by Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s stance on Palestine-Israel.

Palestinians have asked the international community, over and over again and especially in light of this latest blow for Palestine, to enact Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This call comes from Palestinian civil society, not a particular political party, in order to apply international pressure to challenge Israel’s impunity and ongoing and systematic violations of international human rights. As U.S.-based scholars, we must respond to the call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel until it complies with international law and 1) ends its occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and dismantles the Wall; 2) respects the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3) protects and promotes the right of Palestinian refugees to return as upheld by UN Resolution 194. So a boycott of Israeli academic institutions (not individuals) would remain in effect until Israel complies with these three principles. In fact, Palestinian activists have noted that now is also the time to call for sanctions against Israel and an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, given the threat it poses to regional and global peace. But what is immediately in our power as scholars and students is the decision to refuse complicity with Israeli institutions which have upheld Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, directly or indirectly. We can refuse to participate in a conference at an Israeli university built on stolen Palestinian land or at an institute that develops lethal technologies for the Israeli military; we can stop participating in study abroad programs that whitewash the occupation and create false symmetries between colonizer and colonized; and we can reject awards or grants funded by the Israeli government. These are small, not radical, acts that require minimal sacrifice on the part of privileged U.S.-based scholars and students relative to our encaged Palestinian colleagues who cannot regularly get to campus, travel for research, freely engage in political activism, and in the West Bank, are tear-gassed more than any other population on earth. As I discuss in my new book, Boycott! The Academy and Justice in Palestine, the academic boycott movement draws attention to this systemic degradation of academic (and human) freedom in Palestine and has been an incredibly effective and growing campaign in the U.S. academy in recent years. It is also a movement that engages in joint struggles against xenophobia, militarization, border violence, police brutality, and carcerality and for justice, here and there.


Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

“In deftly demonstrating that Palestinian solidarity belongs at the center of all of our justice concerns, Boycott! both exemplifies the challenge of this moment and urges us to fearlessly rise up to it.”—Angela Y. Davis

 


The Power of Speculative Fiction in Imagining the Future of Climate Change: Culture, Social Movements, and American Studies

By Shelley Streeby, author of Imagining the Future of Climate Change: World-Making through Science Fiction and Activism

This guest post is part of the ASA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago, IL Nov. 9-12—and as part of blog series of contributions by authors in the new series American Studies Now.


In the wake of Hurricane Maria and the devastation of Puerto Rico, it is apparent that climate change is now upon us; an analysis of race and ongoing colonialism is required to confront it, and the state will not save the day. What possibilities will arise in the wake of the climate change disaster that is already happening? People of color and Indigenous creators of speculative fictions and social movements have been asking this question and taking action to imagine a post-climate change future for a long time.

From 1965 through the early 2000s, the late, great science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler crafted speculative fictions in the form of novels, stories, and the deep archive of material, including drafts, notebooks, diaries, letters, and research envelopes of newspaper clippings, filling more than 350 boxes, that she left to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. I have been lucky to participate, among poets, scholars, sound artists, cartoonists, dancers, novelists, and others inspired by Butler, in an efflorescence of recent events in Butler’s memory, including the “Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Interdisciplinary Field” conference co-organized by Ayana Jamieson and Moya Bailey on what would have been Butler’s 70th birthday this past June. On this occasion and in this book, I situate Butler as a major climate change intellectual whose extrapolations from her present, theorizing of climate refugees, and speculative memory-work illuminate blind spots in 1970s to early 2000s climate change conversations and have much to teach us today.

Notably, Butler saved in her “Disaster” files many articles about how global warming would increase the intensity and frequency of catastrophic weather events such as Hurricane Maria. In 1989, for instance, she archived an article about how global climate change would create super storms like Hurricane Hugo, which that year caused fifty deaths, left one hundred thousand people homeless, and was the most expensive storm up to that point to hit the United States. Butler carefully underlined in green sentences that explained how a warmer ocean causes more evaporation and that warmer air can hold more water vapor, both of which increase the power of hurricanes. She also underlined the article’s warning that warming ocean and air temperatures will increase wind speeds 20 to 25 percent and their maximum intensity by as much as 60 percent. “We can’t avoid it and we aren’t preparing for it,” she worried, fearing the addition of climate change to all the “usual stuff,” including “racism” (which she crossed out), “earthquakes, social turmoil, etc.” She used this research in writing her famous novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, in which she also imagined symbiotic possibilities for shaping change in a world transformed by the greenhouse effect.

As Director of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Institute, I learned a lot about imagining the future of climate change from meeting adrienne maree brown, a brilliant writer of visionary speculative fiction and social movement organizer who uses Butler’s work to partner with communities and movements, using direct action to confront climate change and environmental racism and co-create what she calls “symbiotic relationships based on our needs and our dreams.” In this way, she builds on Butler’s imaginings of symbiotic entanglements among humans, critters, and the Earth that belie myths of isolated, competitive individuals as she labors to create linkages between groups such as the Arctic Indigenous Youth Alliance and the environmental and social justice organization the Ruckus Society.

Similarly, the authors of the statement “Let Our Indigenous Voices Be Heard,” which they issued on Earth Day 2017, envision a “productive symbiosis, based upon mutual respect, between Indigenous and Western knowledges that could serve shared goals of sustainability in the face of climate change.” Indigenous science, fiction, and futurisms shaped the #NoDAPL struggle led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, as well as other worldwide struggles over oil, water, and resource extraction, including in Māori contexts. Indigenous-helmed movements practice world-making through taking direct action, working in indigenous science and technologies, and imagining decolonized futures in the wake of climate change disaster in many different kinds of speculative fiction across multiple media platforms.

Direct action, which may take such forms as protests, sit-ins, blockades, boycotts, and hacktivism, is an important tactic for social movements wary of making the state the horizon of possibility. It has its roots in anticolonial, antislavery, and labor struggles that extend backwards in time for centuries. In the 1910s, the Industrial Workers of the World made it central to their radical world-making. It was a keyword for Martin Luther King, Jr., and for the Black freedom struggles of the 1960s as well as for antiwar and environmental movements ever since. It was also a key tactic for the American Indian Movement and the American Indian Youth Council. The Standing Rock Youth Council takes “non-Violent Direct Action” to advance their “voices in decisions made about the future of Indian Country.”

In Imagining the Future of Climate Change, I tell the story of imagining the future of climate change by focusing on movements, speculative fictions, and futurisms of Indigenous people and people of color. Although this is a selective lens, it is a richly illuminating one that yields important insights and possibilities that we miss when the focus is only on nation-states, transnational corporations, research scientists, and politicians as significant agents and explainers of change. In focusing on social movements and cultures of climate change, I build on “social movements and culture” methodologies used in American Studies. As modeled by scholars such as Michael Denning and George Lipsitz, such methodologies look for meaning in the connections people make between cultural texts and the important social movements of their times. Today a transnational movement from below, significantly led by Indigenous people and people of color, is one of the most powerful forces opposing the fossil fuel industry’s transnationalism from above. My goal is to introduce the history and most significant flashpoints in imagining the future of climate change over which these movements currently struggle.


Shelley Streeby is Professor of Literature and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and Director of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of Radical Sensations and American Sensations and a coeditor of Empire and the Literature of Sensation.

Imagining the Future of Climate Change is available now as an e-book, and forthcoming in print.


Academic Freedom in the Era of Trump

By Sunaina Maira, author of Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine

This guest post is part of the ASA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago, IL Nov. 9-12—and as part of blog series of contributions by authors in the new series American Studies Now.


Something unthinkable happened in the United States in the last few years: hundreds of academics, senior scholars, graduate students, and untenured faculty came forth in support of an academic boycott of Israel. Beginning in 2013, the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions expanded rapidly with one major academic association after another endorsing the boycott and adopting resolutions in solidarity with the Palestinian call for an academic boycott.

But this movement emerged several years after Palestinian academics, intellectuals, and activists called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2004—and after years of military occupation, failed peace negotiations, ever-expanding and illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, ongoing home demolitions, the building of the Israeli Wall, repression, and military assaults. All of these events and the military occupation of Palestine itself have been endorsed, defended, and funded by Israel’s major global ally, the United States. The academic boycott and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are thus embedded in a significant aspect of the U.S. political and historical relationship to the Middle East, and in a particular, cultural imaginary of Palestine, Palestinians, and Arabs in general, that has become an increasingly central concern of American studies.

I consider this progressive-left academic solidarity to be a potential expression of academic abolitionism. The notion of academic abolitionism is not focused on redeeming the U.S. academy—just as it is ultimately not focused on redemption for the U.S. imperial state—as much as it is ongoing beyond the liberal discourse of academic freedom to highlight other kinds of freedoms, and un-freedoms. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions that are complicit with occupation and apartheid is only one component of a larger politics of refusal grounded in academic abolitionism. An abolitionist view challenges the complicity of the U.S. academy with global militarism, carceral regimes, and settler colonial circuits of power, in which Israel is a key player.

Indeed, the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Trump’s victory spurred more vigorous and vocal progressive mobilization on campuses and in communities, with solidarity campaigns binding together movements against police violence and militarization, and for racial justice, immigrant rights and sanctuary, gender and sexual rights, indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice, and freedom in Palestine. The historic Women’s March in January 2017, which mobilized masses of people to come out in the streets against Trump after his inauguration, was called for by prominent feminist activists such as Angela Davis and Palestinian American Linda Sarsour, who have advocated for BDS as part of a feminist politics. The International Women’s Strike on March 8, 2017, explicitly included a call for “the decolonization of Palestine” in its platform, and for the dismantling of “all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.” These campaigns build on the solidarities that were created in previous years as the BDS movement made linkages with Black Lives Matter, the antiwar and prison abolition movement, labor unions, faith-based activists, and feminist and queer groups.

As “White supremacy” became a term permissible in discussions on major cable news networks about Trump and his alt-right followers, there were also growing conversations about Zionism, the ways it can become imbricated with anti-Semitism on the right, and the need to challenge racial supremacy and White privilege. Palestine has become central to all of these major contemporary debates and resistance movements. Omar Barghouti writes about the struggle for liberation, equality, and dignity waged through BDS:

The global BDS movement for Palestinian rights presents a progressive, antiracist, sophisticated, sustainable, moral, and effective form of nonviolent civil resistance. It has become one of the key political catalysts and moral anchors for a strengthened, reinvigorated international social movement capable of ending the law of the jungle and upholding in its stead the rule of law, reaffirming the rights of all humans to freedom, equality, and dignified living.

Our South Africa moment has finally arrived!

There really is no turning back.


Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Boycott! is available now as an e-book, and forthcoming in print.


ASA, Interdisciplinary Associations, and American Studies Now

By Roderick A. Ferguson, author of We Demand: The University and Student Protests

UC Press is proud to be part of the Association of American University Press’s sixth annual University Press Week, whose overreaching theme this year is #LookItUp: Knowledge Matters. Today’s theme is “Producing the Books That Matter,” exemplified by the new series American Studies Now. We encourage you to also visit our fellow university presses blogging on this theme today: University Press of Kansas, Georgetown University Press, UBC Press, University of Michigan Press, Fordham University Press, Yale University Press, and MIT Press.

This guest post is part of the ASA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago, IL Nov. 9-12—and as part of blog series of contributions by authors in the new series American Studies Now.


The question at this historical moment is can we really engage in difficult work. By “difficult,” I mean the ethically and intellectually hard task of unpacking and confronting social regulations and exclusions in their various locations—in nation-states, in academic fields, and in communities. Historically, interdisciplinary fields have demonstrated a greater capacity for this difficult labor as they have been the ones to engender and demand the creation of languages for race, sexuality, gender, class, disability and so on, developing those languages so that various publics might engage social, political, and economic challenges.

“We Demand” by ASA president-elect Roderick A. Ferguson is the first volume in the American Studies Now series.

For me, this is where interdisciplinary organizations like the American Studies Association and the American Studies Now book series join forces. In addition to producing the languages necessary to confront the social forces that have threatened the survival of various minoritized communities, it has been associations like the ASA that have mustered the courage to speak uncomfortable truths about the modes of violence arising from the state as well as from the regimes of race, gender, sexuality and class. Collectively, the interdisciplines—much more so than the disciplines—have assumed the crucial task of confronting domination. In a nation and a world that increasingly prohibits honest and critical encounters, interdisciplinary associations like the ASA are needed now more than ever, needed to produce intellectuals at all levels who will refuse to accept—as Edward Said put it—“the smooth, ever-so-accommodating confirmations of what the powerful or conventional have to say, and what they do. Not just passively unwilling, but actively willing to say so in public.”

The stakes of this commitment to critical articulations were made clear by the old woman in Toni Morrison’s 1993 Nobel address, the one who offers a lesson about the vital importance of language, the one who warned that yielding to the confirmations of the powerful could only lead to what she called “tongue-suicide.” This murder of critical thinking, she said, is “common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts, for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience.” In this moment, we need a network of cultures whose primary purpose is to studiously reactivate the deep and public obligations of critical intellection.

American Studies Now is poised to be an access point within this network of cultures. If the series is designed—as the editors argue—to “refuse the distinction between politics and culture,” then one of the of the ways in which it embodies that is by creating books written for undergraduate audiences, books designed to give undergraduates the tools to raise the level of social discussion. As such, American Studies Now participates in a larger interdisciplinary culture whose job is the creation of intellectual networks that can actively develop critical and imaginative publics within and outside our scholarly associations.


Roderick A. Ferguson is Professor of American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He was Associate Editor of American Quarterly from 2007 to 2010 and is president-elect of the American Studies Association.


Debuting at ASA 2017: American Studies Now, a New Series

Taking the 2017 American Studies Association conference by storm the new series edited by past presidents of the ASA American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present offers short, timely books on the issues that matter today.

“We need new ways to publish and distribute the work of American Studies scholars. The monograph and the journal article have a crucial role in our field, but they aren’t serving us well in the undergraduate classroom. And they aren’t putting our work into circulation in the pressing, scary political present. This new series is one new way to address those needs — short, accessible books on Black Lives Matter, climate change, neoliberalism, BDS, the continuing urban crisis, indigenous politics, queer and trans issues, the crises in higher education and more. They are designed to provide timely, provocative analysis for teaching, for activism, and for engagement now.”—Lisa Duggan, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Much of the most exciting contemporary work in American Studies refuses the distinction between politics and culture—focusing on historical cultures of power and protest on the one hand, or the political importance of cultural practices on the other. With a short production schedule, the titles in American Studies Now are able to cover these political and cultural intersections while such teachable moments are at the center of public conversation.

“Given the constant rush and hum of information in our social media saturated worlds, it’s easy to get stuck in the here and now in ways that make it difficult to take a critical perspective on where we are and how we got there. So American Studies Now reflects not only the urgency of the questions raised by each volume in the series but also suggests what we mean by critical histories of the present — scholarship that helps readers think about contemporary problems in terms of their larger historical, social, and cultural significance.”—Curtis Marez, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Learn more about this exciting, new series in this Q&A with series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and visit UC Press at booth 405 to browse the books. Heading to the conference? Be sure to check out the following session:

  • American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present
    Fri, November 10, 4:00 to 5:45pm
    With UC Press Executive Editor Niels Hooper, series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and series authors Scott Kurashige, Sunaina Maira, Barbara Ransby, Shelley Streeby, and Macarena Gomez-Barris
    View session details here

For more author sessions at ASA, and to see what else we’ll have on view, head here.


Heading to ASA? Save 40% on These American Studies Titles

From searing critiques of power and wealth, to in-depth investigations of race, gender, and class to cultural histories of activism and social justice, these new releases will inspire the way you think about America today. Visit UC Press at the American Studies Association conference (booth 405) to save 40% on these titles and more. To take early advantage of our conference discount—and see just a sample of what will be on view—visit our ASA landing page.

We’re especially excited to debut the new series American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present, edited by past presidents of the ASA Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez. Offering broad context provided by deeply knowledgeable American Studies scholars and activists, these short, timely books address the political and cultural issues that matter now. Learn more about American Studies Now from the series editors. 

Take Note of These ASA Sessions:

  • American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present
    With UC Press Executive Editor Niels Hooper, series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and series authors Scott Kurashige, Sunaina Maira, Barbara Ransby, Shelley Streeby, and Macarena Gomez-Barris
    View session here
  • Rethinking History and Methods in the American Studies Classroom 
    Join Philip Deloria and Alexander Olson, authors of of American Studies: A User’s Guide, as they discuss how renewed attention to method might change the way American Studies is taught in the classroom and beyond
    View session here
  • Roderick Ferguson, author of We Demand: The University and Student Protests
    View all sessions here
  • Jack Halberstam, author of Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability 
    View all sessions here
  • Barbara Ransby, author of the forthcoming Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century
    View all sessions here
  • Josh Kun, editor of The Tide Was Always High: The Music of Latin America in Los Angeles
    View session here
  • Sharon Luk, author of The Life of Paper: Letters and a Poetics of Living Beyond Captivity
    View session here
  • Simeon Man, author of the forthcoming Soldiering through Empire: Race and the Making of the Decolonizing Pacific
    View session here

Browse more new & notable American Studies Titles.


The Detroit Uprising & Police Brutality: Kathryn Bigelow’s Film Is Just One of Many Stories

By Scott Kurashige, author of The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the U.S. Political Crisis Began in Detroit

This guest post is part of a blog series of contributions by authors in American Studies Now, an e-book first series of short, timely books on significant political and cultural events.


Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Detroit rebellion, famed director Kathryn Bigelow (whose film, The Hurt Locker, swept the Oscars) has a new release simply titled Detroit. The title is somewhat misleading, as the focus of the movie is on a specific instance during the 1967 uprising in which three African American teenagers were killed by the police, while others were brutally interrogated and tortured overnight in the Algiers Motel.

Bigelow is a master of her craft, and the film has garnered widespread critical acclaim for bringing this horrific incident to greater public attention at a time when police killings continue seemingly unabated and the president is goading the cops to rough up suspects. The acting, especially by Algee Smith and dozens who have bit parts or are extras, in many cases is nothing short of phenomenal.

At the same time, the film has served as a lightning rod for criticism. One can expect the film to be dismissed by the “Blue Lives Matter” chorus as bashing the police. However, the film has also been scorned by #OscarsSoWhite critics demanding more African American talent behind the camera, as well as those who abhor police brutality yet are exhausted by the media’s constant replaying of actual and dramatized scenes of black suffering and trauma.

I fully appreciate the polarized response to the film, which should not come as any surprise. It offers one perspective on one of the many stories about Detroit we should know. One thing worth highlighting, however, is that the film is part of a cultural shift toward portraying the events of 1967 as a “rebellion” rather than a “riot.” Indeed, it generally gets right that the police were a primary source of the lawlessness that threatened innocent civilians.

Drawing from Sidney Fine’s Violence in the Model City and the Kerner Commission report, this is a point I emphasized in the following excerpt from chapter one of my book:

Regardless of opinion, when we look closely at the deadly violence that took place during the rebellion, one pattern stands out: the killing of African Americans by state actors. Of the 43 who died, 33 were black and 30 were killed by law enforcement, as the streets of Detroit were covered by 17,000 Detroit cops, state police, National Guardsmen, and finally U.S. Army troops. Authorities had hoped initial outbreaks of violence would play themselves out. When they instead expanded into full-fledged rebellion, the police became the aggressors in one confrontation after another. “This is more than a riot,” said one police officer, reflecting the view of many peers. “This is war.”

When Governor George Romney called in the National Guard, they were poorly prepared and rushed into action. Many had signed up to avoid being sent to Vietnam, yet they also had little prior experience in or knowledge of Detroit when they were deployed to the city. “I’m gonna shoot anything that moves and that is black,” one declared. In one of the most horrific episodes, a four-year-old African American girl named Tonia Blanding was struck 27 times after the National Guard mistook the lighting of a cigarette for sniper fire and saturated her apartment building with .50 caliber machine gun fire. When the final count of the dead was tallied, most had been killed by the police and guard. The army, under direct orders, exercised comparative restraint and carried unloaded weapons.

From the vantage point of thousands of black Detroiters, the civil disorder was experienced largely as a violent police riot, recreating what had occurred in 1943. Whatever resentment the black street force may have felt toward “whitey,” the rage was almost uniformly directed at property rather than human life. Nonetheless, the police systematically rounded up, illegally searched, beat, and arrested scores of black Detroiters, including members of the press and citizens doing nothing more than observing events. Hundreds of suspects were detained in poor and unsanitary conditions; most notoriously, up to a thousand were forced to sleep, urinate, and defecate on a cement floor of the police department’s underground parking garage. Many were subsequently railroaded by an overstressed legal system with little regard for due process. Misogyny underlay abuse, as well. One woman was falsely arrested and then groped, molested, and forced to strip for a photograph with an officer fondling her half-naked body.


Scott Kurashige is Professor of American and Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington Bothell and coauthor with Grace Lee Boggs of The Next American Revolution.

Learn more about his latest book, The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the U.S. Political Crisis Began in Detroitavailable now.


Trump’s Transgender Crisis

By Jack Halberstam, author of Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability

This guest post is part of a blog series of contributions by authors in American Studies Now, a series of short, timely books on significant political and cultural events.


At a time when the visibility and acceptance of transgender people has never been higher, when high school students openly discuss issues of gender variance and businesses boycott states without transgender bathroom policies, President Trump tweeted his intention to ban transgender people from the military. Perhaps, President Trump decided that he needed to make this bold move to win back conservative backers. No doubt even devout Trump supporters in the USA might be eyeing Trump’s health care policies with bewilderment right now and wondering why they are in bed with a one-percenter with strong ties to Russia and little interest in US businesses. For those supporters, Trump offered an olive branch yesterday—by proposing to ban transgender people from the military, he happily sacrificed a gender ambiguous lamb to the mercurial gods of conservative family values.

Trump’s pro-LGBT stance was only the latest campaign posture to find its way to the trash heap of broken promises. While fending off charges of collusion with Russia, treason, rigged elections, and incompetence, Trump has found an issue to rally his right wing fringe supporters while confusing and enraging his many detractors. In the wake of his announcement, many transgender people fired back on twitter to remind Trump and his cronies that they do not want to serve in the military anyway. Others, service members who have been honored in combat, emphasized their intention to stay right where they are, ban or no ban. America’s most famous transgender soldier, Chelsea Manning, accused Trump of cowardice and of creating a distraction with his announcement, but she also suggested that the US military had an inflated and bloated budget anyway, which should be redirected to health care. Hear, hear!

Trump’s tweeted policy change exemplifies how confused conservatives are about transgender issues. While running for office, Trump clearly stated his intentions to protect LGBT communities and to defend the rights of transgender people to use whatever bathroom they deem appropriate and, one assumes, to serve in the military. So, why this ban, why now? Is it related to the health care bill that President Trump has been trying unsuccessfully to put in place—a bill that will dispossess hundreds of thousands of people of their current health care policies? Is it part of an economic retrenchment, an attempt to cut away all unnecessary spending? Trump himself gave an economic rationale for his decision saying that the military spends millions on transgender surgeries. This is nonsense, as many journalists and researchers have pointed out—sex reassignment surgeries are a miniscule part of any military budget and in fact, as the BBC reports: “the US military spends almost $42m a year on the erectile dysfunction medication Viagra—several times the total estimated cost of transgender medical support.” By comparison, the Rand corporation estimates that expenses related to transgender soldiers fall between $5-8 million annually.

There are a few lessons to be learned from Trump’s quick turn away from his clearly stated promises to support transgender people—first, transgender issues have tended to be a safe bet for securing conservative votes. Trump may have overestimated the extent to which this is still true. Second, transgender issues continue to hold a fascination and allure that distracts people from the actual issues under discussion. Finally, transgender people are more integrated into society than ever before in history and the tide towards acceptance is unlikely to be turned back by big, dumb moves like this one. Rather than simply fight for the right for transgender people to serve in the military however, we should seize upon this issue, as Chelsea Manning did, to ask why the military has such a bloated budget in the first place and how these funds can be redirected? We should also push back in similar ways and with equal force on Trump’s attempts to: dispossess people of access to basic health care, amp up security forces and deportations, and to downsize education.

This latest measure neither reflects the current climate on transgender people in or out of the military and has no obvious purpose other than to distract from his total lack of a foreign policy, his disdain for the health of the environment, and his total inability to govern. Transgender people, many of whom have served their country selflessly, which is more than Trump and most of his cabinet can claim, will survive this latest indignity and may well see this ban overturned sooner rather than later once Trump realizes he has lost the crowd’s attention and support and has instead inspired their wrath, their pity and finally, their indifference.


Jack Halberstam is Professor of English and Gender Studies at Columbia University.

Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability explores recent shifts in the meaning of the gendered body and representation, and the possibilities of a nongendered, gender-optional, or gender-queer future.


July 23, 1967 Riot or Rebellion? How Today’s Political Crisis Began in Detroit

Detroit has stood at the center of a growing crisis in the United States tied to racial conflict, the collapse of the middle class, and political polarization. No city, argues historian Scott Kurashige, has come to embody the decline of middle-class economic security, the entrenchment of structural unemployment, and the burden of long-term debt more than Detroit. Kurashige — who is also an activist and author of The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the U.S. Political Crisis Began in Detroit — worked closely with the legendary Grace Lee Boggs, a noted figure in Detroit’s Black Power movement, as well as many community organizations in Detroit. “When you think about Detroit’s 50-year crisis”, he says, “it really relates to the unresolved contradictions of 1967.”

On July 23, 1967, thousands took to the streets of Detroit to vent their long-standing frustrations with racism, police brutality, and vanishing job prospects. Mainstream observers called it a “riot,” contending that it brought about the ruin of a once-great city and stressed for repressive policing to restore law and order. As Kurashige points out in The Fifty-Year Rebellion, many others instead called it a “rebellion,” and advocated for social programs and investments to remedy racism and poverty:

They viewed it as an expression of black unity and a political declaration for their “fair share” of resources and power in the great city and nation… Regardless of opinion, when we look closely at the deadly violence that took place during the rebellion, one pattern stands out: the killing of African Americans by state actors.

Of the 43 who died, 33 were black and 30 were killed by law enforcement, as the streets of Detroit were covered by 17,000 Detroit cops, state police, National Guardsmen, and finally U.S. Army troops. Authorities had hoped initial outbreaks of violence would play themselves out. When they instead expanded into full-fledged rebellion, the police became the aggressors in one confrontation after another. “This is more than a riot,” said one police officer, reflecting the view of many peers. “This is war.”

In the following segment of The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann, Kurashige further clarifies the difference between the two terms, and why it’s an important distinction:

 

Challenging the conventional notion that “rioters” ruined a once-thriving city, The Fifty-Year Rebellion provides striking insights into the polarization of American society over the past half-century and how the struggle in Detroit will determine what type of political and economic system will emerge from the nation’s current crisis.

With a roster of key figures and their roles — from community activists such as James and Grace Lee Boggs to wealthy and private investors like Betsy DeVos and Dan Gilbert — the book shows that in the face of devastation and dispossession, visionary Detroit activists have organized a new model of a postindustrial city through the creation of urban farms, freedom schools, solidarity economics, and self-governing communities.


The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the U.S. Political Crisis Began in Detroit is part of American Studies Now, an e-book first series of short, timely books on significant political and cultural events.